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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

ALMS Eye Candy

Did you miss the American Le Mans race that took place at Lime Rock Park this past Saturday?  If you did, go look up who won.  Then come back and look at these pics of what you may have missed.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Easily Accessible

The automotive Golden Age, a phrase that's been repeated ad nauseum since a time when British roadsters clashed with American muscle for sales on the showroom floor, has taken on a whole new meaning in the past few years.  Today, an affordable, practical hatchback can roll off the assembly line with over 250 horsepower and beat both those cars in the twisties, the quarter mile, and at the pump.  With performance so readily available to the average consumer, what's there to complain about?

Think back about ten years ago.  Things were beautiful back then.  Car companies were big and plentiful; NASA was mapping Mars; Tiger Woods was known for his superb golfing instead of his superb pimping.  Above all, the pinnacle of automotive excellence was the F1 inspired Ferrari Enzo which sported one carbon fiber body, four carbon brakes, six semi-automatic gears, twelve cylinders, and 650 horsepower.  It was the perfect time for the Enzo because people still had 401Ks to pay for the $660,000 supercar. 

V12? $660,000? 650 horsepower?  What's the big deal?  All of these specs can be found in the super and hypercars of today.  Yes, that's true but that last number can be found in something a little less spectacular, the 2013 Mustang GT500.  As you'd expect, this Mustang, as with all Mustangs, is a car for the blue collar masses.  It doesn't live in the glorified realm of a Ferrari or the pampered extravagance of a Concours D'elegance.  Its $55,000 price tag will be mocked at the country club while its 12 second quarter mile will be bench raced against the blueprinted, ported and polished LS1 powered Chevelle that belongs to the boys that bellied up to the bar for a shot and a beer.

That's all well and good.  It's what this GT500 was built for, blazing through the quarter mile with a great hole shot thanks to that solid rear axle.  The problem arises when the buyer is more concerned about Miley Cyrus than quarter miles.  Put another way, what will happen when Joe Schmoe off the street hands over the cash for all that power without knowing how to handle it?

Now, power isn't a bad thing!  It's just worrisome to know that the median American income is around $46,000 and stretching payments on a $55,000 car for 5 years isn't a far fetched idea for this consumer driven country.  The price of this car almost guarantees that there will be buyers who just looked at how much horsepower they could get for how little money.  That kind of thinking interlaced with crowned, potholes, and gravel strewn real world roads can only result in more than a few GT500s in a ditch... next to a FR-S.

Yes!  I said it!  God's gift to the enthusiast community will end up abused, crashed, and broken on more than one occasion, even if it has 450 (!) less horsepower than the above mentioned GT500.

For the very few that don't know, the Scion FR-S is the car that brings Toyota back into the sports car game.  It doesn't overwhelm with power or technological wizardry but charms with a rear wheel drive layout, perfect 50/50 weight distribution, a low center of gravity, and sport tuned suspension.  And therein lies the problem.

There are very few sub-$25,000 cars that sport rear wheel drive.  The Mazda Miata is the most likely rival at the track.  While that car has less power and is mocked by many as belonging to a hairdresser, it's known by enthusiasts for its poise and precision.  That ability to fly under the radar of the general population is what has allowed it to be an easy choice for cheap thrills specifically by the enthusiast crowd.

Meanwhile, Scion has decided to release commercials that look like this.

The ingenious people at Toyota have decided to show everyone what drifting is.  Think of all the teenagers and young, stupid 20-somethings who bought a Scion tC because its cool factor was determined by the fact that it's a coupe and it's cheap.  Now think of what car would be the perfect upgrade for them.  A Honda Accord coupe? Nope.  A FR-S, the car that race car driver Randy Pobst said doesn't inspire confidence?  Sadly, yes.  Maybe the mainstream deserves more credit than this.  Maybe they can handle a lightweight rear wheel drive coupe.  Than again, that mainstream population is the same group of people who thought the BMW 1-series was front wheel drive... and that's without a drifting commercial.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Parlez Vous Francais?

Apparently, there's some race called the 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend in France.  To get everyone amped up for it, here's Hollywood's stylized take on the legendary race.  I hear this Steve McQueen fellow is pretty cool too.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The 80 Minutes of Le Mans

Just wanted to let everyone know that Audi's documentary about last year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, Truth in 24 II: Every Second Counts, is downloadable on iTunes.  It can also be viewed via Youtube... which means it's also here on FPH.  What a great way to kick off this race filled weekend!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Back Home Again In Indiana

This weekend is the height of the racing season, starting in Monte Carlo with the Monaco GP, coming back home to Indiana for the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing", and finishing in Charlotte with the 600.  While I do like NASCAR the first two represent 2/3rds of racing's triple crown (the other being the 24 hours of LeMans).  The main event for me is the 500.  With all due respect to the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500 is the still the most significant race in the USA in my opinion.

This year's race is loaded with story lines, the biggest of which is the new car.  First off it's slower, second there is noticeable gaps between engine manufactures.  Its Chevy > Honda >>>>>>>>>>>>> Lotus.  Lotus is way off pace to the tune of 16 MPH off of the pole speeds (yet IndyCar decided not to let them use extra boost).  Its a borderline safety hazard, they will be moving chicanes.  If they don't maintain 105% pace they will be removed though.

There are also new names in the fray, the biggest star thus far in the month of May has been James Hinchcliffe who takes over Danica Patrick's (and what was to be Dan Wheldon's) ride in the Andretti Go Daddy Chevy.  He is quite the character, he is the mayor of his own imaginary internet town Hinchtown.  He missed the pole by a whopping .003 mph average. You've also got Josef Newgarden driving for Sarah Fisher's team who was the best Honda in the field in 7th as a rookie.  He was the Indy Lights champion last season and won at Indy in that series.  Sarah Fisher is also entering Bryan Clauson, a rookie Indiana boy who took the traditional USAC ladder to Indy.  He had a very promising qualifying effort going on pole day before he took a hard hit on lap 4.  Being that there were only 33 cars, all he had to do was get in 4 clean laps on bump day which he did.  He will start 31st, ahead of the two Lotus snails.

Here are some recent clips to get you in the mood for The Greatest Spectacle in Racing...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Classic Car Club: SoHo

While not everyone can agree with Jay Leno's sense of humor, even the most bitter critics of Jay Leno's chin have a hard time denying the awesomeness of his car collection.

Given the opportunity, wouldn't you like a collection like that of your own? But let's be realistic, not all of us can make a fortune hosting the longest running TV show on NBC. What's more, as a New Yorker, there wouldn't be anywhere for me to put my collection even if I had one. Never mind the maintenance and insurance, I can't imagine what a hassle it would be if I had to move my fleet of supercars twice a week because of alternate side parking.

In a city of 17 million people, I can't be the only car guy around that's craving for the chance to get behind the wheel of my dream cars. Wouldn't it be great if I could drive a classic Jaguar E-type, enjoy it for that rare sunny Saturday afternoon, and let someone else worry about everything else? That's where the Manhattan Classic Car Club comes in. In order to find out what CCC is all about, my friend Jeffrey Butler of Motoriginal and I decided to meet up Wednesday afternoon to visit its SoHo establishment in person.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Icons: Sir Frank Williams

Frank Williams (left); Williams FW10 (center); Patrick Head (right)

Shaping up to be one of the strangest seasons in modern Formula 1, every race in the 2012 season so far has handed a victory to a different driver and a different team. In fact, the inconsistent performance and results from one venue to the next have been so mind boggling, interviews with even the most experienced of drivers and engineers from top tier teams could only provide us with a tepid, "I don't know," "we will see," "It's difficult to say," or "Hopefully we can gain performance from our upcoming upgrades."

Given the nature of the season so far, I prophesied that a victory for Williams wouldn't be out of the question. All it takes is a little havoc -- a wet race, a safety car, anything unforeseen. But when young Pastor Maldonado finally provided Williams its first Grand Prix victory since Brazil in 2004, what was most surprising of all was to see the team bring it all together so soon and with such authority -- leading from pole. Adding some romance to Williams' achievement, the victory was also regarded as a belated birthday present for Sir Frank Williams as he celebrated his 70th birthday not too long ago. Sadly, a bizarre garage fire would disrupt WilliamsF1's moment of glory only 90 minutes after Maldonado clinched the race win.

Pastor Maldonado earns first WilliamsF1 victory since 2004

In total, Williams F1 competed in a total of 577 Grands Prix, taken 7 Driver's Championships, 9 Constructor's, 114 race wins, and started the race from pole 127 times. Not bad, considering Eddie Jordan called Williams a minnow team.

While Eddie Jordan's remark might seem like a dig at Williams, it isn't completely untrue. In fact, Williams' reputation as an underdog is one of the traits that made the team so appealing.